Category Archives: Rancid Tripe

Crappy Cover Photographs are not Cover Art

I’m on a very short high horse here. I don’t think any of my covers are works of genius. I do think they are good and in some cases great, but none are truly awesome.

I don’t like when works of fiction use photographs as cover art.

I think it’s lazy and cheap. It lowers my hopes of the work being well written.

Fiction covers should be works of art such as paintings and not stock photography. That’s not to say photography is not art. Photography is an art form and there are artists whose medium is photography and these artists create art through selective angles, lighting and subject matter and often Photoshop. Very few photographs can create a feel that a work of fiction is going to be good fiction. For the sake of simplicity, when I mention art from here out, I am talking about drawings and paintings, be they physical or digital.

Photographs have a lot of detail. Our eyes notice the detail. I think this is not the idea of a book cover. A book cover should convey a short, simple message about the book. Art, no matter how detailed, does not have the level of detail of a photograph. A painting will always convey something of the artist’s perception of the subject matter in the way it focuses on some details to the omission of others.

The worst part of using photographs for cover art is that the pictures are so often just stock photographs taken from Flickr. They are not even designed to be that book’s cover. Sometimes the author actually uses some Photoshop to focus the photograph. Usually, they just extract the people from the background and paste them over some other blurred photograph. I see quite a few of these in an author promotion group I joined. The author promotion page sounded like a good idea until I really thought about it. As near as I can tell everyone on that page is an author and no one is actually reading the books the other authors are promoting.

Nine out of ten of the covers of these books are lazy photograph repurposing junk.

There are ways to use a photograph as a book cover. The first thing a fiction cover needs of a photograph including people is a clear view of a character’s eyes. People stop to notice eyes. Actually every animal will stop to notice eyes. It’s instinct. Of course, the independent authors, no matter how talented they are in story craft, are rarely good at selecting photographs as covers. Since romance/erotica is so popular these days, most of the pictures show a man, either shirtless or with a loose shirt, embracing a woman whose clothes are falling to the wind. Often they are kissing.

This is not a good way to sell a book. We are raised to be embarrassed by other people’s acts of affection. We have an ingrained behavior to look away. A voyeuristic person will then look back, usually out of the corner of their eye, but most of us won’t. And those that look back will then spend too much time examining picture on the cover.

And that stock photography is generic. It’s not made to be the cover of that book and often its painfully obvious. I swear one trilogy I saw was the same stock photograph flipped with one of the books featuring someone pasted in front of the old picture. Photoshop is remarkably easy to use and so hard to use well. Ask my wife who thinks I’m a Photoshop expert. I’m not. I just understand how to manipulate color.

My high horse is short because of the cover I use for ‘Of Maia’s Mist’. That is a photograph I purchased the rights to from a photographer. It replaced a hand-drawn colored pencil sketch I had drawn myself. That photograph was a submission for that call for art because the photographer thought the picture would represent the character of a ‘nature girl’ well and it does.

Every other book cover I have out there right now is computer generated art made by me. The cover for Sheillene is the laziest of those since I clearly use a 3D character animation program and the background is a stock painting. But every other cover is exactly what it should be. Ok, so ‘The Nightstone’ cover kind of sucks, but the book kind of sucks so it’s a good cover for that book. The book is only published to give a little more history to the world in ‘Of Maia’s Mist’ which does not suck.

The vampire trilogy covers are also computer generated. ‘Second Blood’s cover was a digital painting using a stock photo model. The other two books from that series are heavily Photoshopped lips generated by the same 3d Character animation program I used for Sheillene. As simple as they look, the cover for ‘Blood Huntress’ took four or five hours and the cover for ‘Blood Reprisal’ took me over twelve hours. Most of that time was working with a digital paintbrush to adjust the colors and clean up some of the shapes. Still, the covers tell you what to expect from the book. Book One is a vampire feeling alone in a new world. Book two has her identifying her relationships with others. Book three has her in a struggle against an “angel”. Spoiler, those are air quotes too.

But that’s just my covers. I am also writing a role playing game manual. The expectation of the potential audience for that book is one work of art for every other page. The book is a hundred and fifty pages long. I spent most of the last two years finding and commissioning art for that book. It took a huge investment in time and a bit of an investment in money. I use a lot of stock art because I don’t have a budget. I did collect about a hundred works of art and used just over half of those because I found a place to marry them to in the book. A few of the works were commissioned for specific pages. I still had to resort to doing a few drawings myself.

Painting and drawings only look simpler than photographs. Any of the three, when done by an artist, will convey a complex message most of us won’t be able to put into words. And the people that can put them into words are just being pretentious. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s an understatement. The trick with a book cover is to have the cover art represent the book. To do that, it should be created for the book. There are good photographs out there that make excellent covers, even for fiction. These cannot be found in stock piles. They must be commissioned to be for that book. It’s so obvious when they are. The thing is, a good commissioned photograph isn’t any cheaper than a good hand or computer drawn/painted cover. Low end professional cover art costs $300-$500. My budget means I have to hire amateurs. Good Amateurs are hard to find. Chances are, if they are really good, they go pro.

Anyone looking for a great amateur cover artist should look up Gabrielle Ragusi on Deviantart.com. She didn’t break my bank for the work I commissioned from her for that role playing manual. No, deviant art is not about deviant art. It’s just an art (all kinds from painting to photographs to handcrafts) website. I have a page there, too. My “art” needs the air quotes.

New Project

Okay, this is an old project with a new medium.

demiarpg.wordpress.com

It’s a roleplaying setting for Savage Worlds. In simple terms it’s hell and the players play demons, but, don’t assume everything is evil about it.

How to See Spin, and What Effect it Will Have.

(preface: I try to keep my bloggings from poltically favoring one party or the other. I sometimes speak ill of all political parties and I do have a preference, which sometimes shows through. If it does, it does. I would apologize, but this is a blog and it’s expected to have a little personal bias. Still, my efforts are to blog party- neutral.)

By now we all know that politicians “spin” facts and accounts of events to sell themselves to the public. Recently I got into a little debate with one of my cousins, not over the politics, but over the numbers behind a spin by President Obama’s supporters.

The gist is that when Mitt Romney served as governor, with his term ending in January 2007, Massachusetts was 47th in the nation in job creation. This is a true statistic. Whole articles were written slamming Gov. Romney over this abhorrently low number because today job-creation is something both candidates are claiming to be able to do. This is a prime example of political spin. We are only given a small part of the relevant facts.

Another fact to take into account for this particular statistic is that at the time, unemployment in Mass. was 4.7%. Together with the prior statistic, we can derive that Mass. wasn’t creating jobs because there wasn’t a need to create jobs. 4.7% is a low number that economists would put in or close to the ideal rate of unemployment, which is about 5%.

5% is standard for the number of people between jobs at any given point in a strong economy. When the unemployment figure is 5% people who are among those without jobs are typically unemployed for 2-3 months with few exceeding 6 months. Significantly less than 5% means we have a dearth of labor – which is bad. That would mean that companies cannot do the work to meet their demand and it means that the costs of labor start to rise. Good for the worker’s right? Well not necessarily. When people in the middle and lower classes have more money, prices of necessity’s tend to rise if for no other reason than because people can afford to pay for them. (It’s a given that those selling the necessities or anything want more profit.)

So, basically there needs to be a healthy balance between the need for workers and the number of people available to work.

Back to the numbers involved in this particular bit of spin. 4.7% is a good unemployment number. The national average at the time was 4.6%. 4.7% is not statistically significantly better or worse than 4.6%. The unemployment figure at the time of Gov. Romney’s departure is not really fuel for an argument that can establish anything. 47th in job creation is not a good number, but, given the economy at the time, it was not really a bad number either. At any given time in any advancing society, there will be jobs going away (think telegraph operators), and other jobs being created (think networking engineers). If the statistic measuring job creation is a net figure, meaning it’s the number of new jobs minus the number the number of jobs that went away, then the 47th in the nation is a worthless statistic because, as I mentioned, combined with the unemployment figure, there was not only not a need to create more jobs, doing so might have been harmful to the economy.

Now, if that 47th statistic is a gross figure, meaning just the number of new jobs, then 47th is terrible. But, it was a net figure. It was also misleading. 47th was the average over Gov. Romney’s four years. When he left office the number was actually 28th. Analysis of the improvement rate, over Gov. Romney’s term, statistically is nearly identical to the rates of improvement in employment over Pres. Obama’s term.

So the Obama camp basically took a fact that when explored would yield no difference between the candidates and cherry picked a number that would make Gov. Romney look bad. Not an outright lie, just a selective representation of the facts.

But American’s don’t want the details. We love factoids. So most of us are going to take the numbers as presented and not think twice. There is no statistic in the world that stands alone in explaining why or how. For every number we see, there are many factors and caveats taken to arrive at that single number. We should, when presented with a single number, investigate. The vast majority of American’s won’t and that is what the politicians are counting on.

The factoid doesn’t have to be a number. Any simple statement made by a campaign, followed by an explanation of what the factoid means (or not followed with anything) is spin. It’s impossible to accurately explain the effects of a factoid without understanding what factors and caveats went into the factoid.

Most Presidents and Governors have only a small part in the overall direction of the economy over their terms. The economy is not usually a volatile thing and tends to fluctuate up and down. The only time we get to see the true measure of these politicians is when things do get volatile and what they do, to bring things back to the gentle fluctuations. And then we all question whether they did the right thing or if they should have done it differently. When that analysis happens, we’re talking speculation. It really comes down to who you, as a voter, trust.

The bailouts and recovery acts of 2008 and 2009 were not the acts of one man. But, we’ll all see ads that will make us think they were. On the other hand, we can trace the Affordable Healthcare Acts back to one person behind the drive to get it done fast–some would say too fast. Of course, when people point fingers and call “Obamacare” a tyrannical invasion of individual rights, they won’t want us to remember that “Obamacare” was modeled after “Romneycare”.
Every time a statistic becomes a Facebook meme or is embraced by the mass media, there are sites that will do the research to take a deeper look at the numbers and where they come from. Factcheck.org is pretty reliable. Really, no one should be learning anything from Facebook other than what their friends are doing. Facebook infographics are less accurate than fortune cookies. For example, contrary to the extremely popular Facebook infographic, congressmen do not earn their salaries for life. (Seriously, if you think they do, spend five minutes doing actual research. Congressional Pensions on the Senate website)

Four years from now, if we could look at two timelines, one where Pres. Obama is re-elected and one where Gov. Romney is elected, we would be unlikely to see significant differences. Presidents make policies, not laws. Sure there’s the veto power, but, barring an overwhelming majority in both houses of congress, an acceptable compromise between the parties is usually reached long before anything ends up on the president’s desk. Twenty years out, we’d start to see differences because there are people with more power over the laws in the long-term: Supreme Court Justices. Whoever is elected has a good chance of nominating a justice or two.

On Atheism

Which of the following is a true statement?

All evidence points to the non-existence of an all-powerful supernatural entity.

There is no evidence that an all-powerful supernatural entity exists.

The difference between the two statements seems subtle but is, in fact, as vast as the universe.

I’m not anti-aetheism. I just favor the open-minded over the absolutist. Though my experiences with people with absolutist views tell me I probably won’t be opening any minds with this article, I’m gonna try anyway.

The first thing we have to get out of the way is the whole Science vs. Religion debate. I’ll make this quick. Science wins, but only if you actually put them against each other. There is absolutely zero undeniable evidence in the validity of any religion while there is plenty of undeniable evidence in the validity of science. Only ignorance, and I mean that in the purest sense of the word, can deny the truth in the previous sentence.  The thing with science is that there is provable, undeniable, evidence at every step of the way and there is no need for the word “believe”. We can know if we take the time to understand.

Don’t think I’m saying religion is complete bunk. That’s precisely the opposite of the purpose of this article.

There’s quite a bit to be said for faith. I’m all for believing in God or the gods or pretty much anything that science cannot prove does not exist. I’m even all for Atheists who believe there are no gods, with a caveat, that they should understand they have a belief and the scientific facts cannot support the absolute non-existence of supernatural entities.

I can prove, without a doubt, there is no invisible pink elephant standing next to me. I can’t prove there is not an unperceivable elephant-like-being there. Unperceivable is non-provable.  Then again, that which does not interact with the physical universe does not exist in the physical universe.  Therefore the elephant-like-being does not exist, right? True, unless we believe that we simply have not developed the means to detect the interactions the elephant-like-being has with the physical  universe.

Unfortunately for absolutists, that loophole must be allowed for.

Science has no need for a supernatural entity. While there are certainly behaviors in the physical world we don’t understand and cannot explain yet, we don’t need to say there is a god behind such things. We simply say we’re still learning.

Short of a supernatural entity appearing among us and going through a series of scientific test s to redefine them as simply all-powerful and no longer supernatural, we’ll likely never have absolute proof of the existence of any gods. The term supernatural means it cannot be explained through science because there isn’t any actual evidence to examine. Once we can explain it, it’s no longer supernatural.

I like to think of religion as the ultimate Schrodinger’s cat exercise. We can’t know what’s inside the box until we open it. Most religions say that can’t happen until death. Science can’t prove anything happens after death other than the body and the mind ceases to function. It can’t say anything about the soul other than there is no evidence that it exists.

A person can say, with complete truth, that they cannot believe in anything they cannot prove to be true. Some would even say it’s foolish to believe in things that cannot be proven true. However, both of those statements require some derivative of the word “belief”.

To say that that which science cannot currently prove exists cannot exist is being unscientific.

Science can prove that the events documented in some religious texts never happened. Science can prove that some of the events documented in some religious texts did actually happen; only, there is no need for a supernatural force to explain those events.

But, when it comes to the actual existence of gods, the only scientifically factual statement we can make is: There is no evidence that an all-powerful supernatural entity exists and there is no need for such an entity to explain anything we can perceive through any means. This not the same as being able to say there are no gods. Maybe we’ll find a way to perceive them in the future, maybe we won’t.

At one time in the past we could not, through any means at the time, perceive atoms.  Humanity spent several centuries trying to determine what, exactly, we were made of. Several ideas were put forth and validated through philosophy and incomplete knowledge of proper scientific methodology. Advances in technologies have allowed us to find ways to perceive actual atoms and their structures. But, there was a need for atomic structure to exist to explain, for lack of a better phrase, the presence of ‘stuff’.

I could argue that the existence of gods is like the existence of Dark Energy or Dark Matter. We can’t perceive them and we don’t really know what any of them are. The problem is that scientifically, we can perceive the effects of Dark Energy and Dark Matter on the universe. There are no effects in the perceivable universe we can or need to attribute to supernatural entities.

But, as I’ve already said: There’s quite a bit to be said for faith. Faith in God or whatever gods you choose to believe in is not something we should judge or be judged for. Faith is something that exists, that we know exists. I am of the opinion there are things we should not allow faith to do to us. We should not allow faith to blind us to actual facts (Science). We should not allow faith to incite us to hatred or violence. If you want to rely on faith to save you from dangerous situations, that’s your choice. I’d recommend having a back-up plan.

I have a religion that I know to be true with all my heart. We know the heart is a foolish thing, however. And my brain certainly thinks my heart is being silly. Still I maintain my faith, based solely on what I feel. Feeling is a form of perception, right?

And, in trying to answer that question, that is why the contest between science and religion exists.

Elmo’s Candy Begging Day

A high percentage of the readers  (both of them) of my super sekrit (shh!) blog suggested I expand on this.

We are a civilized society with no more need of superstition and a dire need to protect our children from knowing fear. Citing the works of several highly regarded couch dwelling theological psyciometrists, it has been determined that Halloween might expose our children to an emotion they should reserve only for the Almighty: fear.

Children, being fragile and easily manipulated by imagery should not be exposed to death at any age. Death is frightening even to adults, why should we allow our children to understand it or in their exposure to it, fear it. We should therefore do away with the imagery associated with Halloween. Ghosts and skeletons should be relegated to where they belong, buried and forgotten. Witches – have we learned nothing from the Inquisition and our glorious days of early American society – should be burned! Vampires are heresy – we only allow for one being to be raised from the dead before Judgment Day and he didn’t have fangs or drink blood. We drink His.

So starting this year we are putting Halloween where it belongs – in history.

October 31st will no longer see goblins or anyone else running around the streets. It will henceforth simply be the day before All Saints Day.

But, panic not. There is still a day to go door to door begging for treats. Beginning this year, on November 18th, the birthday of the new holiday’s namesake, we shall be celebrating Elmo’s Candy Begging Day. On this day we shall dress in fully licensed merchandise as our favorite children’s character and go door to door and beg for candy, perhaps offering a joyous song in return. This activity shall be titled “Treat for Treating” and will do away with the threat of tricks.

We shall from this day forward never again allow our children to even know of death. We will not teach them to face their fears. We feel fear for a reason. If we teach them to stand up to that which they do not understand they will be forever scarred. With the dismantling of Halloween, we can ensure that when faced with the unknown or the frightening our children will assume the correct protective position of cowering in the corner and weeping pitifully. This will protect them from harm, most assuredly.

So spread the word, Elmo’s Candy Begging Day is coming.*

*pending approval from Sesame Workshop.

Satire: A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. Humor is often used to aid this. I feel ludicrous sticking this onto this bit of writing, but I fear there are some folks out there that might just think this was a serious idea. Apologies to Sesame Workshop. I know they would never support such a moronic idea.

Allison Gross drops out of race over Republican past.

Allison Gross, a prominent figure in the local covens had been a leading candidate for becoming one of the High Cauldron Three, was forced to drop out of the race this week when it came to light that she’d dabbled in Republicanism.

“I thought we would be brewing tea,” Miss Gross was quoted as saying pertaining to a date she’d attended with a new romantic interest. “Those were some of my best Drakewort Teabags that video shows me throwing into the river.”

Miss Gross had previously made the news for turning a suitor into a dragon and for protesting divulging information to a certain Scotsman.

“I wish she’d mentioned that bit about her past prior to the primaries,” Hecate, leader of the Occultists and a former supporter of Gross said when news broke. “Now we’re going to lose to Naturist.”

“Allison has always been a little loopy,” Octavia, her Naturist opponent said on Monday. “I once heard her mention that if Torquemada had come to her door, she’d have confessed and repented and turned in her coven because that was the law of the time, after all.”

Top Ten Jobs for Vampires

Let’s face reality, not all vampires are living unliving on the compound interest on investments they made a century ago. While it may seem vampires can save money on their food bills and don’t generally have to feed a ten dollar a day night Starbucks addiction, having a bit of money to throw around makes attracting prey much easier.

Of course, the downside to having a job is there is less time to hunt for the night’s blood puppet. The upsides are far more numerous. While encased in their tombs for the day with little to do, the vampire with income can afford cable and possibly even a nice large flat screen TV to help pass the time. Also, prey won’t be as objectionable to be brought home to a plush penthouse with poshly black tinted windows as they would an abandoned basement with tinfoil glued to the windows.

A nice car is a little less intimidating than being whooshed into the night sky. Sure flying is romantic, but in the day to day night-to-night need for blood most vampires know from experience that screams of terror are more common than a blissful anticipation of the neck nip. Every minute spent before having to reveal the true nature of the vampire gives them more time to charm their prey. A properly wooed human is less likely to scream. A nice long drive allows a better chance to lull the human or seduce them.

To afford such luxuries, especially in the food-dense metropolitan areas, many vampires are finding a need to increase their income. While having unholy strength and ungodly speed may seem to make a life an unlife of crime an option, it does leave a trail that could reveal the secret of vampires’ existence. Humans don’t want to know vampires really do exist because they’d panic at the realization that they are not the top of the food chain. Vampires don’t want said panic because humans would hunt them and do so during the day. Ironically, the incredibly high ratio of humans required to produce a constant food source for the comparatively small number of vampires creates a huge advantage in numbers for the humans if it ever came to a war between the two species.

Nine to five jobs are problematic because, as all vampires know, sunlight causes conflagration and not just annoying sparkles. The aptly named graveyard shift offers opportunities to those who can only leave the protections of their crypts (or houses as most modern vampires prefer to live) when the sun is below the horizon. Here is the list of jobs that are best suited to night crawlers:

1) Medical Specialist.

This may be a nurse, a medical technician or even a trauma surgeon working at an ER. Doctor is not really the best option here. Becoming an actual doctor without ever drawing a daylight shift or class may be tricky, and the constant smell of blood might overwhelm the self control of a vampire surgeon. A medical technician is virtually ignored in a hospital. Lab orders are handed off and eye contact is rarely made. The additional benefit of ample close blood supplies puts this at the top of the list. The economical fluorescent lighting of most hospitals makes everyone appear to have a deathly pallor, so vampires don’t stand out.

2) Computer Operations.

This is second on the list because it has a high pay scale. Another benefit to this job is that, for the vampire that can overcome the need to sleep during the day, this job most often takes place in rooms without windows. Corporations reserve their windows for their managers’ and executives’ offices and conference rooms where they impress clients. This puts the tech geeks down in the basement or in internal offices with no exposure to annoying sunlight. Another side bonus: Geeks are expected to have pale skin.

2) Dispatcher.

Logistics are ongoing in the world, twenty four hours a day. Someone is keeping track where all those trucks, trains, boats and planes are. For a small company the dispatcher might work alone on their shift. The largest companies keep their dispatchers in bomb-proof bunkers. Anything that is bomb-proof is usually light proof as well. These jobs also pay premium rates because of how vital they are to the profits of the logistics companies.

3) Cab Driver.

Still have that thick soviet block accent? This is not a problem for a cab driver. A good metro area can support thousands of cabbies for the overnight hours. The plentitude of drunks after last call makes the hunt for prey a bit easier. Alcohol is a blood thinner and makes feeding easier. The drunk mind is much easier to manipulate to make the victim forget that they donated a pint of blood from their aorta.

4) Hotel Clerk.

Decent hotels keep someone at the desk all night to answer calls for new pillows, towels and to attend to the late arrivals and early departures. Access to the hotel master key provides an array of choices for the evening meal.

5) Casino Worker.

These twenty four hour operations need all types of workers from dealers to cocktail servers at all hours. An unscrupulous vamp might even pick their prey from the winners and help their self to a bat’s share.

6) Nightclub/Bar worker.

Bad lighting and ample supply of drunks would seem like the ideal place, but there are very few gigs that pay more than a pittance. Patience of the dead to build experience can lead to a job where the nightly tip amounts contain commas.

7) Private Detective.

The ability to turn down non-ideal cases can prevent the need to ever work in daylight. This job offers plenty of opportunities to become friendly with the types of people no one will miss if a vampire has a tendency to overeat.

8 ) Police Detective

A regular police officer has to attend the academy and that’s not something offered indoors or only at night. An online college degree can bypass the academy and several years as a flatfoot. This is a government job and governments must make near-heroic efforts to accommodate people with disabilities like photosensitivity. The benefit of this over Private Detective is the steady paycheck, but at the cost of having to answer to a supervisor and enforced minimum work hours per week.

9) Mechanical Repair.

Factories often run twenty four hours a day. All those machines require constant repair and maintenance. This bullet might also include factory workers, but the mechanics are paid more.

10) Janitorial Staff.

Most companies have the people that clean the building working only when the people that make the money for the business are not. There’s no glamour in this job, but often no supervision either.

Jobs that seem ideal but may not be:

1) Firefighter.

Being significantly more flammable than humans makes working close to flames a bad idea.

2) Convenience Store Clerk.

If they dayshift worker is late, the morning sun streaming through the windows may leave a vamp worker steaming, literally.

3) Morgue worker or coroner.

Good hours, no chance of sunlight, but an onlooker might immediately notice the similarity in a vampire’s pallor to that of the corpse on the metal table.

AUTHORS NOTE: I wrote this long before I wrote any of my vampire novels, so this isn’t some lame marketing ploy. This blog post dates to October 2010. My first vampire novel, Second Blood, was published May 2013. Since you’ve read this far, you just might be the curious type and might want to know about my novels. You can find out more about these novels here: currently-available-published-works

PS: It only took me four years after writing novels about vampires to realize this post might be a good place to mention it. Authors Note and PS added April 2017.